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Students to manage disaster scenarios

Chris Theobald

University invests in state-of-the-art ‘major incident’ training simulator

From l-r Jessica Simmons, Second Year Foundation degree Policing student, Lancashire Constabulary’s Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, Professor Jonathan Crego, Director of the Hydra Foundation, David Mallaby, Principal Lecturer and Academic Lead for Policing, and Will Leah, Second Year Foundation degree policing student.

The management of major incidents, anything from plane crashes to the search for a missing child, can now be authentically recreated and experienced thanks to a purpose built, state-of-the-art simulation suite recently installed by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

The training suite is the most sophisticated university installation in the country and one of the very few in UK universities to mirror the specification and complexity of the most advanced systems used by police forces and other emergency services across the UK and abroad.

Developed by the National Centre for Applied Learning Technologies and known as *Hydra/Minerva, the training simulator realistically recreates the sights, sounds, radio messages and telephone calls of crisis situations.

Including hardware and software the University has invested £360,000 in the facility which incorporates a control centre, a major incident conference room together with additional rooms for student teams to develop and direct incident strategy, tactics and operations. Emergency scenarios could range from twenty minutes to several days and between one and thirty students can use the facility at any given time.

Students from the School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences following policing-related and other emergency services courses will be the major users of the new facility although it has clear applications for students studying programmes as diverse as psychology and business.

"This immersive learning suite will allow students to experience different command scenarios, delivered virtually, using state-of-the-art technology, by recreating live critical incidents."

The suite is being opened today, Tuesday 2 December, by Lancashire Constabulary’s Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, who is also today receiving an Honorary Fellowship from the University recognising his outstanding contribution to the people of Lancashire and the positive working relationship between the Force and the University.

Steve commented: “I was honoured to be asked by the Dean of the School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences to formally open the brand new Hydra/Minerva facility. This immersive learning suite will allow students to experience different command scenarios, delivered virtually, using state-of-the-art technology, by recreating live critical incidents. I believe that the opportunities provided by UCLan’s investment in this suite will take our collaborative work to another level.”

UCLan’s David Mallaby, Principal Lecturer and Academic Lead for Policing, is a former police chief superintendent with a career in the Force spanning thirty years. Commenting on the new facility he said: “Major emergencies such as plane and train crashes are typically complex, initially chaotic and often challenging to manage. These incidents require a team-based approach in which the activities and efforts of those officers involved are effectively co-ordinated and properly directed.

“The investment we have made in this state-of-the-art system will bring critical incident scenarios to life for our students, encouraging them to think strategically, plan tactics and deliver successful outcomes. It’s a safe but challenging training setting where good practice can be identified and shared but crucially it’s a place where mistakes have no operational consequences.”

David added: “Our system is also extremely flexible; we’ll be able to run off-the-shelf scenarios, we can customise them to our own needs or we can produce and film completely new situations. We envisage that students from across they University will use our simulator, enabling them to develop communication and leadership abilities and thereby enhancing their employability skills.”

"The new suite at UCLan is a fabulous Hydra Simulation centre and the most sophisticated university installation in the country. UCLan also has the first UK installation of the new system ‘Hydra-in-the-Cloud'"

The current UCLan exercise has been designed for newly promoted police sergeants and looks at a number of issues that they encounter as they come on duty at a busy police station. The initial series of events explore both investigative and critical incident management skills and provides a real world, operational context to augment academic principles taught in the University. The system presents the students with video, audio and documents and whilst not being a computer game, allows them to seek additional information throughout.

Professor Jonathan Crego, Director of the Hydra Foundation, commented: “The new suite at UCLan is a fabulous Hydra Simulation centre and the most sophisticated university installation in the country. UCLan also has the first UK installation of the new system ‘Hydra-in-the-Cloud’. This provides it with a unique teaching and research capability and allows the University to operate alongside police and fire services, both within the region and internationally, as Hydra is operating in 80 centres globally.

“As part of the Hydra Foundation, UCLan will have access to the hundreds of exercises developed by other suites around the world and will be able to collaborate in joint research programmes. The new suite at UCLan is a really exciting learning and research opportunity and I welcome them to the vibrant Hydra community of ideas.”

UCLan students using the simulator will be based on programmes at foundation, undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level.

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Lancashire Constabulary’s Chief Constable Steve Finnigan with Foundation degree in Policing students at the formal launch of the Hydra/Minerva training simulator.